“The Sandman” is a huge hourglass with two shaky ends that never settles. The goal of the Netflix series, which is based on Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed comic books and was co-created by the author, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg, is to introduce the vast (though slightly dwindling) audience of the streaming service to its intricate fantasy world, which is home to mythical figures who both rule and roam their respective realms while existing within a shared, ever-expanding universe.
As if explaining to the general public the hidden meaning of our sleep wasn’t difficult enough, the first season can’t decide on a straightforward format. The ongoing plot, which is directed by Dream, called Morpheus, aka Master of Dreams, etc The Sandman, feels episodic in certain cases but rarely lasts a complete hour. Tom Sturridge’s portrayal of Dream is essentially that of a tour guide. His goals seem to be driven more by the necessity to introduce Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie), Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and Constantine (Jenna Coleman) than by any constant internal wishes or desires. His goals seem to fluctuate as frequently as his firmly held beliefs.
By the way, Desire is another character performed by Mason Alexander Park, but they serve more as a tease for upcoming seasons than they do as part of this story. Similar emptiness can be found in “The Sandman,” which runs a teaser-trailer after the first episode as though it realises the first hour offers no incentive to stay watching. Gaiman’s stoic illustrations coming to life may be enough for devoted fans to endure ten hours of a long-held and finally fulfilled fantasy. (However, this is yet another production with an excessive number of scenes taking place in large, flat, open areas where CGI can be readily conjured for an uninspired sense of grandeur.) However, those who have not yet accepted Christ may grow weary of searching through all this glittering sand in search of deeper significance or, you know, any kind of true emotion.
The opening scene of “The Sandman” finds Dream (who is initially introduced as the King of Dreams) warning his audience of “mortals” that the world they “insist on calling the real world” is only half of their life. He is in charge of maintaining order in the location they go to while they sleep, which is colloquially known as The Dreaming. Dream generates and regulates nightmares. He keeps a few of these creations close by. Others leave with his handpicked employees. It becomes evident that these are laws meant to be violated, though, as soon as we learn that most dreams cannot survive in the waking world. And sure enough, one soon breaks.
Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), a wealthy English magician who thinks he can capture Death and make them bring his deceased son back to life, is the primary character of the first episode. However, Roderick’s spell misfires and lassos Dream, whom he then demands to explain to him how to summon Death or else bring back his beloved kid. Roderick imprisons Dream after a century of quiet treatment when he refuses, impatiently waiting for the ever-patient semi-god to accede to his demands. The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), an escaped nightmare who lives in the real world and sees Dream’s captivity as an opportunity for freedom, lends the evil parent a helpful hand.
Disaster does occur while Dream is away, but, like most of “The Sandman,” it’s unclear how much his absence means to both Dream and the waking world. Dream is a blank slate who never develops into a truly likeable, or even consistently understandable, protagonist. Instead of using his protracted confinement to enable the audience get to know him, to side with him, to understand his reasons, and to get eager for his subsequent journey. He criticises a man who was given immortality for profiting from the slave trade one moment, and then sentences a nightmare to 1000 years of darkness for deciding to develop compassion.
Dream experiences a type of mid-life crisis (or whatever it is called for individuals whose lives are infinite) in the middle of the season, moping around as if he’s already tired of the premise created during the previous four hours. Even his introductory monologue, in which he asserts that his function equals his mission, is eventually called into question because he must repeat the same lesson.
Dream mostly interacts with other Endless—an immortal race that rules their realms—after he returns to his and sets out to restore whatever order needs to be restored. But every tiny dispute he encounters is handled by a kind of dream logic that never communicates the minute-by-minute stakes, much less the overall ones. He engages in a verbal battle with the demon.
John Dee, a beautifully developed villain played by David Thewlis, is defeated way too fast. There are so many battles that need to be explained as they go on, and even then, they only make sense theoretically. Observing them develop is futile because each attack has no clear repercussions. No matter how many CGI fireworks are exchanged or bizarre spells are used, if we don’t know what hurts an Endless being, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses unless the actors explicitly tell us who did.
Although its action scenes are pointless, occasionally it does present interesting ideas. The makers and the created, or at least Dream and the dreamers he supervises, still hold a grudge. He also feels abandoned by his family because they have never come looking for him during his imprisonment in a solid glass sphere. The rebellious dreams and other errant creatures who want to hurt them are in stark contrast to their ongoing doubt and reaffirmation of their obligation to serve humanity. But none of these observations grow into meaningful ideas or are sufficiently investigated to necessitate making a serious commitment to settling on a position.
Strong casting is responsible for “The Sandman’s” few highlights. Christie exudes confidence in her portrayal of Lucifer, which is admirable. Howell-Baptiste presents Death in a gracious light as she accompanies the deceased into their afterlife roles. Even when he is spooning ice cream, Thewlis is electrifying, and his half-episode diner scene is the closest the programme comes to appreciating the value of dreams. It’s fun to watch him act like a crazy morality scientist in the dark. However, this first season seems disjointed despite the brightness of a few isolated specks. It completely abandons any recognisable arc for its main and resorts to perplexing dream logic to keep things going because it is so intent on tease-teasing this character or that realm.
These problems wouldn’t be as significant if it had abandoned the season’s many flimsy stories in favour of a more episodic structure, more akin to reading a comic book. And “The Sandman” isn’t a difficult watch; it frequently enough produces intriguing cast members or original ideas to arouse a bewildered fascination. However, without a racing heart and a concentrated mind, it is quickly forgotten. Chances are good that anything your mind conjures up if you fall asleep at any point is equally as unforgettable as this.